Kings Community Action Organization will soon be able to serve more infants and toddlers with its Early Head Start Program. 

The organization was awarded an Early Head Start Childcare Partnership grant that will provide $1.2 million per year for the next five years. KCAO will partner with the state Family Child Care Home Licensing program to provide quality child care to more Kings County residents.

KCAO Deputy Executive Director Glenda Stephens said the grant will provide funding to serve 88 children between the ages of birth to 48 months.

Stephens said there are about 800 children enrolled in KCAO’s various Head Start programs. The Early Head Start Program currently has about 50 children. The program is primarily served by home child care providers.

“There is a great need for infant and toddler care in our county, especially for low-income families,” Stephens said.

Stephens said the grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, looked at applicants that had the greatest need and were qualified to provide quality services. She said KCAO’s experience with child care programs and other related services likely helped the organization land the funding.

Yolanda Solorio, KCAO’s Early Head Start manager, said the program will also help prepare children for school by regularly assessing each child’s progress. It also includes monthly meetings with parents to set individual goals based on each child’s needs.

“If they need to develop some gross motor skills, fine motor skills or even language, then we are going to be providing activities to parents so they can work with them at home,” Solorio said. “Some of those activities will also be implemented in the family child-care home or center.”

Solorio said the program will also provide comprehensive services for child-care providers to ensure high standards. That includes helping them obtain a Child Development Associate Credential or associate degree.

“Our child-care specialists will be working with family child-care providers to help them with lesson plans and any training or support they need,” Solorio said.

Stephens said many child-care programs lack the comprehensive services provided by Head Start. Many of them also don’t have such strict education requirements for providers.

The grant can also be used to pay for supplies and improvements to provide children with a rich learning environment.

“For instance,” Stephens said, “if there was a provider who needed a fence, we could actually pay to have a fence put up to provide safety for the children.”

Stephens said KCAO is also hiring several child development specialists to work directly with providers, children and parents, as well as family service workers to handle case management.

Solorio said the Head Start program can not only change the lives of children, but also their parents. She said a number of parents who once had children in the program have gone back to school to earn a degree so they can work for KCAO’s Head Start programs.

“So we don’t just want to make an impact on the lives of children, but also on their families,” Solorio said.

Families interested in signing up for Head Start can get an application from KCAO’s main office. KCAO also conducts door-to-door recruitment and distributes information at community events like Thursday Night Market Place.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2458 or Follow him on Twitter @MikeE_HS.